RARA-AVIS: Re: Dick Powell

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 26 Mar 2008


Re your quote from Chandler below:

"'When and if you see 'The Big Sleep' (the first half of it anyhow)you will realize what can be done with this sort of story by a director with the gift of atmosphere and the requisite touch of hidden sadism. Bogart, of course, is also so much better than any other tough-guy actor that he makes bums of the Ladds and the Powells.'"

Nevertheless, elsewhere (and I don't have the letter handy), Chandler opined that Powell fit his image of Marlowe better than any other actor who played him in film, and that MMS was the most faithful film adaptation.

FWIW, I agree with Kevin on this. Bogart was great in TBS, but he was playing Bogart, not Marlowe. That is to say, he was adapting his already well-established screen persona to Chandler's character.

Powell, in his very first tough-guy role, and still known primarily as a song-and-dance man, didn't have an establishe tough-guy persona to fall back on. Consequently, he was able to come closer to Chandler's conception.

As for Bogart as Spade, of course I can imagine no one else in the part now, thanks to his superlative performance in the 1941 film, but, even recognizing that, there's no way one can objectively read Hammett's description on the first page of TMF and think it's a letter-perfect description of Bogie. Spade's tall where Bogart's short, blond where Bogart's dark-haired, with angular features where Bogart's, even as a young man, are hang-dog.

In fact, if you read Spade's description, the person who comes to mind isn't Bogart, but another Sam.

Samuel Dashiell Hammett. Tall, blond, slender to an almost unhealthy point, with facial features so angular they appear to be a series of v's fitted together. It was a verbal self-portrait. Whether or not Hammett saw himself as Spade, I don't think there can be any doubt that, physically at least, he was basing Spade on himself.


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